Throughout preseason football camp, Assistant Director of Athletics Communications Rachel Perreault will take you on a behind-the-scenes look at different aspects of the football program that go beyond the practice field. In today’s eighth installment, she checks in with the legend that is Lester Karlin down in the equipment room.
As the Virginia Tech football team opens the season on Labor Day this year, Director of Equipment Services Lester Karlin will pour out of the Avery Tunnel with the squad and be on the sideline for his 413th straight game with the Hokies. The team’s long-time equipment director is used to these 12-hour days he has been putting in during both camp and the season, but he wouldn’t trade them for anything.
Karlin’s camp days begin around 7 a.m. as he and his staff of two graduate assistants and nine undergrads prepare for the day. They are responsible for organizing and issuing not only all the clothing and equipment worn in practice, but also the outfits for lifting as well. Though most of the equipment is kept in each player’s locker, they come to the window of the equipment room every day to pick up whatever else they need.
In some cases, though, the players don’t only make need-based appearances in that window. Karlin and redshirt junior James Gayle have a storied relationship that dates back pretty much to Gayle’s arrival on campus. His frequent and often unnecessary trips to that equipment window have built a bond between the two that, when asked about each other, give each a good laugh. Admitting to visiting Karlin even when he knows he already has all he needs in his locker, Gayle enjoys the rise he can get out of the stern and always outspoken Karlin.
The staff attends every practice in case any damage is done or someone needs a quick switch, and they stick around afterward to get a few loads of laundry in before heading home for the day. Putting in about 12 loads before calling it a day, Karlin says it takes about 18-24 50-pound loads to get through all the football team’s laundry.
The outfitting process for the team begins about a season in advance. Karlin meets with a Nike representative, Coach Beamer and John Ballein every July to go over the new styles and designs for the future season. But it took him until a recent radio show appearance to realize he has earned a lot of trust from the head honcho and has a lot of pull when it comes to what the Hokies wear.
He has to send out his 14-page order by December that, this year, includes 11,329 items, not including shoes, and will begin to receive this stuff between April and the end of June. While orders for other sports are also rolling in around the same time, the equipment room could have upwards of 3,000 boxes of equipment and gear to unpack, count and organize
The meticulous Karlin is very particular about how things are done in his office. On game day, he arrives five hours before kickoff and his staff will come in about four hours prior to help set up each player’s locker with their equipment, a hanging jersey with the name showing from every angle and a shiny helmet on the floor in front.
After the game, he will stay for a couple hours to begin the laundry. Always aiming for the squads white uniforms to remain just that way, he admits to occasionally washing them twice to keep the team always looking sharp.
When the Hokies are on the road, he and his staff pack trunks of extra equipment and uniforms, as well as a travel bag for each player that is expected to be returned on Monday. Through the years, players learn to make this return a part of their routine so they don’t make it on the list that Karlin gives Coach Beamer and aren’t forced to do up-downs after practice as punishment. Now an upperclassman, Gayle as finally learned his lesson when it comes to his travel bag. Confessing to forgetting his bag every single week as a freshman, he says now it’s pretty rare he forgets.
The players aren’t the only ones that keep things loose in the equipment room, as Karlin’s two GA’s, Chad and Drew, can now break up the long work hours by checking the equipment room’s new Twitter page (@VTFBEquipment) the pair recently created.
The page has served to be both insightful and entertaining for the staff in its early stages. Gaining quick popularity, going from 100 to 1,500 followers, the pair hear what the fans like and don’t like, while also answering questions people may have about certain jobs or equipment they use. Though he may never check it, the two set the account up on Karlin’s phone so he can at least be kept in the loop with everything.
Feared by some, while developing a Gayle-esque, love-hate relationship with others, Karlin’s strong personality and commitment to the Hokies are what he is known for. He is an important piece in what helps the Hokies go on game day and throughout the week, and when asked about what this means to him, he is lost for words. He is grateful for the praise he has received from his Hokie family and how valued he is, but says he’s just doing the job he loves the best way he knows how.
For updates on Virginia Tech football, follow the Hokies on Twitter (@VT_Football).